How many times have you wanted to go back in time and change a thing or two?
That is one of the most frustrating things about writing memoir: you relive all of these memories, but you can’t change a damn thing.
Lately, I’ve been reading my old journals to make sure that I’m representing my voice accurately in the age that I’m currently writing about. It’s taken all of my strength to prevent me from vomiting while I read—my 12-year-old thoughts were so freaking cringe-worthy!
I captured nothing remotely relevant in terms of emotional depth or anything that would actually help me write my memoir now, unfortunately. For example, when my parents got divorced, I didn’t include how I felt about it or what implications I thought the event might hold on my future. I legitimately only wrote, “Daddy sent the pink slip. But I’m okay with it.” Then talked about some boy! *Eye roll*!
There’s so much shyness, awkwardness, beating-around-the-bush-ness in these pages that I wrote over 15 years ago, that I—31-year-old Vonetta—want to jump in and say something. I don’t want to go back and re-do things that 15-year-old Vonetta would do; I just want to possess her body like a spirit and say whatever 31-year-old Vonetta would say now.
When I was 14, I had a mutual crush with a guy who went to my church. We told each other in letters passed by other people that we liked each other, but we never went out or dated like normal teenagers. We could barely even speak to each other. For example, I recorded on Sunday, June 11, 2000 that “we had lots of almost conversations” at church that day. It wound up being the most words we’d ever speak to each other and consisted of the following (and, yes, I was that creepster who kept detailed records of conversations with boys, but not of her feelings about her parents getting divorced):
Guy (whispering): Tell my sister to shut up.
V: Girl, your brother said shut up.
Guy: What time is it?
Guy: What time is it?
V (thinking aloud): That’s what I forgot.
V: I forgot to eat dinner last night.
31-year-old Vonetta wants to ask the guy to pick me up from my house and take us to the mall, where all the normal teenagers hung out in the late 90s/early 00s. I’d also hold him to his promise to buy me a watch for my birthday and demand that it be a damned nice one because I was turning 15 and didn’t want no Mickey Mouse rubbish (and I’d do with atrocious subject-verb agreement and the double negative). I’d sniff his shirt after he had played basketball and tell him he smelled good because I thought he did, even though to every other nose in the immediate vicinity, he smelled horrible. Instead of tapping his arm to get his attention, I’d hold it in both hands and scratch his skin lightly.
BUT I wind up sighing and reminding myself that everything that I didn’t do as a teenager helped make me into the cynical so-and-so I am now.
Without silence, I wouldn’t have so many words. Without hurt, I wouldn’t be able to laugh so hard at myself. Without awkwardness, I wouldn’t have confidence. Without my dreams, I wouldn’t have had a “type” to see if could be found in real life. Without so many unrequited crushes, I wouldn’t have realized that I am a diamond-in-the-rough weirdo who was worthy of being loved by the right one (presumably, my spouse, the only man who ever thought I was cool in spite of my inherent weirdo-ness).
I started writing fiction around the same time I started journaling, in seventh grade. Middle school is a time when a lot of things happen to kids, internally with puberty and all, and externally with everyone reacting to puberty and all. I didn’t know it then, but fiction was a way for me to create the reality that I wanted.
No guys were seriously interested in me until I was 22 (which I didn’t know when I was 12, obviously), but through writing, I could create whatever relationship I wanted with whoever I wanted, typically someone who didn’t exist. That might sound unhealthy, but I think it helped me create healthy paradigms. The relationships around me—my parents’, my sister’s—were crumbling by the minute, and my mom watched way too much Lifetime, so my foundational idea of relationships was considerably warped. Going into my mind and allowing God to re-create what was never there was ultimately healing for me.
For over two years, a fictional character has been sitting with me in the recesses of my mind. I know she’s begging me to write her in a novel. I think she’s some version of me, 20 years from now. Maybe she will be my escape from the reality of memoir. After reliving my past for months and months, I think I readily welcome the future, even if it’s not real. Yet.